As i type this on the afternoon of March 18th it is snowing outside...again. I should be talking about the first chough nest building activity, the arrival of migrants and promising signs of spring. I can touch on some of those topics but March 2018 has been far from a 'typical month' weather wise.
The beginning of the month saw the arrival of the 'Beast From The East'. Sub zero temperatures are rare on the islands. Surrounded by a relatively warm sea we can go entire winters without so much as frost or ice. This year we saw 8 consecutive days with minimum temps of zero or below, with a new record minimum low of -5.5 Celsius logged on the night of 28 Feb into 1 March. On three consecutive days it didn't get above freezing with a new lowest maximum record on 2 March when it didn't get above -2 Celsius
Significant snowfall occurred on 28 Feb and 1 March in association with Storm Emma which also brought bitterly cold storm force 10 easterly winds. Flat, sheltered areas saw up to 10cm with drifts of 40-50cm. Since our arrival in 2006 this is only the second 'snow event' we have seen. The previous snowfall was short lived and had melted by the end of the day. This one saw lying snow for 3 days in a row followed by a rapid thaw that left the island very wet and boggy
Wildlife wise there was a large influx of waders displaced from the freezing mainland. Unfortunately they didn't find any respite on an equally frozen island and there were many casualties as over 1000 golden plover, 500 lapwing and smaller numbers of snipe, dunlin and woodcock desperately tried to stay warm and find food. Winter thrushes flooded west too with over 500 fieldfare and 200 redwing being logged on 2 March. Large numbers remained throughout the period and on the nearby mainland I heard tales of fieldfares (normally fruit feeders) readily eating porridge oats and even bread in a sign of just how desperate they were.
Fieldfare, golden plover and lapwing (top to bottom)
Our sheep came through the spell ok but we doubled the daily feeding amount while grass was unavailable and tried to single out our the pregnant ewes for extra. Additional mineral blocks were deployed, water troughs regularly de-iced (several times a day!) and snow drifts checked
Infrastructure wise our water froze for the first time since we've been here. Our 1300 litre (286 gallons in old money) plastic water tank was like a giant ice pop for 5 days. This meant trudging up the hill to use the public compost loos, delving into the emergency bottled water supply and melting fresh snow to make tea!
Snow melt water for tea!
Once the thaw kicked in and the tanks started filling again it was clear not all our pipes had survived. An old copper pipe on the outside of the house, despite being lagged, had split and had turned into quite the water feature! There was no chance of getting new parts for two further days so we rooted around in the workshop and found 3 of the 4 bits we needed. We found a 4th eventually but it was for a different sized pipe (actually it was off a tap!) but a few extra washers and copious amounts of PTFE tape meant we 'persuaded' it to fit and turned the leak from a fountain to a drip. That would do for a couple of days!
Lisa fixing burst pipe
A spell of milder, almost spring like weather at times, ensued with temperatures hitting the dizzy heights of 9C! This was the cue for our first wheatear of the year to appear on 14th March, ironically in a fierce SE force 9 and lashing rain! A few more trickled through in calmer coniditons over the next few days before things turned decidely wintery again today! Not on the scale of Beast MK 1, this 'mini beast' produced a decent covering of snow first thing with an overnight low of -3C but given how relatively warm the ground was after a few days of sunshine and rain, it has largely melted already. However, a biting easterly wind is causing the wood burner to billow and frequent snow showers are still scudding through.
The outlook is a milder one thankfully. This period of weather has illustrated the impact longer periods of anomalous weather can have on wildlife taking refuge in our usually benign, mild, wet UK winters.
Hopefully a sense of normality will occupy the coming weeks and months and allow our chough to get underway with nest building, lambing to pass off peacefully (ha!) and calm seas to allow plenty of visitors to come and see us (with the odd gale thrown in as it is springtime in Pembrokeshire after all!)
We open on Good Friday (the 30th I think? I don't have my diary to hand and am wrapped in a blanket which is limiting my ability to get up and check!). If you would like to come and see us contact our lovely St Davids boat operators Thousand Islands Expeditions on 01437 721721 to book. Hopefully we will have thawed out by then and we can enjoy a cup of tea with you!
Until then, another log on the fire I think.....
More snow photos below:
Snow on the Bishops and Clerks (Carreg Rhosson)
The sheep gathering yard
Snow on The Bitches
Cutting through the drifts to feed sheep
Trudging up Carn Llundain
Sheltering from the Beast!
And then came the thaw.....
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